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Italy, the CIA and rendition

Analysis: What Wednesday's stunning verdict in Rome means for the "War on Terror".


The details of the decision to abduct Nasr remained vague throughout the trial, in part because the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that data on coordination between Italian spy agencies and the CIA was inadmissible.

But enough evidence existed to prove the abduction happened and to broadly implicate a range of American operatives. Other testimony established that Nasr had transited through Germany (an embarrassing revelation for a government which had been openly critical of the practice), and that he was tortured repeatedly upon his arrival in Egypt.

Within Italy, meanwhile, the ruling will revive controversy over whether the government of President Silvio Berlusconi — a close Bush ally — offered tacit or direct permission for the operations, and in a broader sense, whether it is in Italy’s national interest to help in such operations.

Privately, some Italian officials have noted that Italy had a large force of troops in Iraq at the time, and, as the home to the Vatican, presents a potentially attractive target for Al Qaeda or other Islamic militant groups.

Rendition had been a tool of intelligence agencies on both sides of the Cold War, most memorably in 1987, when U.S. warplanes intercepted an Egyptian airliner carrying Palestinians who hijacked the Italian liner Achille Lauro and killed a wheelchair-bound Jewish American. The airliner was forced to land at a U.S. airbase in Sicily, and the Palestinians were sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths.

Few renditions involved such clear-cut figures, though. Since the Clinton administration, but especially since the 9/11 attacks, hundreds of people have been taken into custody without legal proceedings and transported to third countries, like Egypt, where legal guarantees are fluid and torture commonplace.

Dana Priest, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter who revealed details of the programs in a series of 2005 articles, found evidence implicating a half dozen EU countries as willing (if covert) participants in the renditions. Several others allowed flights carrying abducted prisoners to pass through their airspace. Besides Egypt, secret prisons where such “ghost detainees” were held existed in Jordan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Morocco and Pakistan.

Following Priest’s articles, President Bush acknowledged those prisons late in his term, after years in which top officials, including Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, denied their existence.